Overlooked in all the hype surrounding the official comment on the Sidney Crosby concussion was this recent article by Rob Rossi of The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The article is titled, "Cooke's story puts his season in perspective," and it takes a candid look at the difficult situation in Cooke's personal life and his reflection on his style of play.
In regards to his family issues, I would encourage you to read Rossi's article. Generally speaking, I prefer to not comment on a player's family situation when there is a health concern. While I wish Cooke and his family the best, I do intend to consider the issues as separate.
In terms of Cooke's on-ice performance, it is clear that he understands he is running out of chances. The article indicates that nobody with the NHL or Penguins have expressed it in these terms, Cooke believes it be a "zero tolerance" return from his last 17-game suspension for elbowing the New York Rangers' Ryan McDonagh.
On my blog, over the course of last season I wrote in no uncertain terms regarding my feelings on Cooke. To sum them up, he is often over the line, costing his team dearly, and his actions are mostly uncalled for.
You can read my comments on the Savard hit, the Tyutin hit and the McDonagh hit to show my consistency on the subject. Frankly, I am not one of the Penguins fans that just brushes aside Cooke's action because he plays for my favorite team.
Can Matt Cooke alter his play to avoid a length suspension?
In fact, as this season approaches, Cooke would appear to be one of the biggest question marks on the team that are not named Crosby. Cooke is a great penalty killer and has decent scoring touch and when he is paired with Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy may be a part of the best cycling line in hockey.
The problem is the other side of Cooke. Time and time again he has taken cheap shots at players whether from behind, to the head or to the lower body. He has earned his reputation as one of, if not the dirtiest player in hockey.
As Rossi details, Cooke has reviewed 20 hours of hits so that he can learn how to deliver a legal hit. Perhaps after all he has been through, he is sincere. The Rossi article closes with the following quote:
"I've got this chance, and I need to look at it as an opportunity to show everybody that I can change my approach, that I can play within the rules. The rest of my career can be proving that it's possible to change. It has to be about that. There's no excuse for it not to be about that."
Without question, the Penguins are going to need Cooke to actually buy in to that approach. Gone are Max Talbot and Mike Rupp, so the penalty kill will need a forward of his abilities now more than ever.
Add to that the likely delay to the start of Crosby's season and his offensive abilities will also be much needed. The only aspect of Cooke's game that is unwelcome is the headhunting sideshow.
The Rossi article also quotes Cooke as saying, "I don't want to hurt anybody." In his case, actions will speak much louder than words.